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MSU Football Blog

State News reporters revisit preseason predictions

By Dillon Davis, Stephen Brooks          Last updated: 12/07/13 1:34pm         

State News football reporters Stephen Brooks and Dillon Davis take a look back at their MSU game predictions from the 2013 preseason. The No. 10-ranked Spartans overachieved compared to Stephen’s predicted finish of 10-2 and Dillon’s choice of 9-3. Considering the picks were made before the season, perspectives obviously were quite different.

Overall, both writers overestimated MSU’s offensive production, and underestimated the Spartans on the road. Compare the reality of an 11-1 season with the early projections.

Result: MSU 26, WMU 13

Stephen: MSU 45, WMU 3
This was the beginning of a common theme throughout my predictions by assuming MSU’s offense was magically fixed through the offseason. The Spartan defense made an early statement with two touchdowns, but it was an uncomfortably close game against a team that finished 1-11 — with its starting quarterback knocked out in the first half. Reality set in that MSU still had some kinks to work out offensively, which became a trend in non-conference play.

Dillon: MSU 35, WMU 7
At the time, I wrote that there were few teams MSU would rather open the season against than Western Michigan. And based on the flow of this game, the Spartans were awful lucky to start the season this way. Senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell started the game for the Spartans, but yielded the position to sophomore Connor Cook after a few lackluster drives — a move that ultimately proved to head coach Mark Dantonio what Cook brings to the table under center. The game was highlighted by two spectacular defensive touchdowns by Kurtis Drummond and Shilique Calhoun, respectively, setting the tone for what has been an outstanding season on the defensive side of the ball.

Result: MSU 21, South Florida 6

Stephen: MSU 31, South Florida 10
The offense plodded along again as MSU needed two more defensive touchdowns from sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun to beat the Bulls, one week after they lost to FCS McNeese State. The muddled quarterback controversy wore on as Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook and Tyler O’Connor rotated under center to produce a single touchdown. South Florida was worse and MSU played worse than I expected.

Dillon: MSU 24, South Florida 14
Three quarterbacks played, while not a single one emerged as the clear cut choice to be the starter. However, Calhoun proved he’s even better than advertised, scoring twice on a fumble return and an interception return, pacing the way in another weak offensive showing. I thought MSU might overlook South Florida but, as it turned out at this point of the year, MSU didn’t know enough about itself to overthink an opponent. So, as the Spartans have done for much of 2013, the defense shouldered the load en route to a victory.

Result: MSU 55, Youngstown State 17

Stephen: MSU 49, Youngstown State 0
The Penguins scored more points than I anticipated, but it’s notable for being Cook’s breakout game that put him in position to seize the starting quarterback job the remainder of the season. He threw for four touchdown passes and MSU matched its highest point total under head coach Mark Dantonio. The low-profile matchup with Youngstown State wound up being the first of many positive strides for the offense.

Dillon: MSU 42, Youngstown State 7
As I predicted, the Spartans pummeled Youngstown State like a schoolyard bully. But more importantly, it was the first sign of life from MSU’s offense, which had been largely stagnant during the season. It was interesting seeing Cook grow up before our eyes against the Penguins and he’s only gotten better since this game. And while the Penguins are not in the Spartans’ weight class, per se, it was a much-needed thrashing to give the team a boost it badly needed.

Result: Notre Dame 17, MSU 13

Stephen: Notre Dame 17, MSU 13
I was amazed to look back and realize I pegged this one perfectly. I’m not sure I’ve ever done that before. But there’s no way I could have predicted how this one would go down in South Bend, Ind. The Fighting Irish used four pass interference penalties and a defensive holding call as its main function of offense, and squeaked out a win at home. Looking back, it was a missed opportunity as MSU’s only loss.

Dillon: MSU 17, Notre Dame 14
First off, a tip of the cap to Stephen for getting the score correct for this game. I’d imagine the odds of doing that have to be pretty slim. As for the game, it’s difficult to look back and see where the Spartans were compared to where they are right now — it seems like a different team. A week after thrashing Youngstown State, MSU was back to basics on offense, struggling to make the explosive plays it takes to beat a team like Notre Dame. Ultimately, it took four defensive pass interference calls — several of which were very questionable — for the Fighting Irish to give the Spartans their only loss of the season.

Result: MSU 26, Iowa 14

Stephen: MSU 28, Iowa 13
This was Cook’s second great leap forward, and the passing game showed a legitimate pulse for the first time all season. I wasn’t perfect in consecutive weeks, but I wasn’t far off. Cook and the Spartans responded from the Notre Dame loss with a big road win to kick off the conference schedule with confidence.

Dillon: Iowa 24, MSU 17
I predicted MSU would struggle at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium. After all, it’s a difficult venue to play in and it was Hawkeyes’ homecoming weekend on campus, which usually brings the largest and most enthusiastic crowd of the season. However, Cook and the passing game emerged in Iowa City, taking a step forward after a difficult loss in South Bend, Ind. Each time the Hawkeyes built any momentum, MSU was quick to grab it back and walked out of the stadium with a big time victory.

Result: MSU 42, Indiana 28

Stephen: MSU 38, Indiana 31
I gave MSU’s defense a ton of credit and respect before the season, but I slipped up assuming Indiana’s high-octane offense would find a few more creases. The Hoosiers’ Tevin Coleman broke a 64-yard run to begin the game, but the Spartans made their tweaks and locked it down the rest of the day. That’s another trend that seemed to start with this game: MSU’s outstanding defense appears to be most vulnerable on the first drive or two, but given time, the Spartans will make the necessary adjustments.

Dillon: MSU 28, Indiana 17
For the first time all season, MSU’s defense struggled to open the game, signaling a cause for concern against an up tempo Hoosier offensive attack. But MSU’s offense, led by a four-touchdown day by junior running back Jeremy Langford, proved it can be every bit as lethal as any team in the Big Ten. Langford is the first MSU player to score four in a game since Edwin Baker in 2010 against Minnesota, leading the Spartans to a win and a 5-1 record.

Result: MSU 14, Purdue 0

Stephen: MSU 35, Purdue 6
The blunder against the Boilermakers remains the biggest head-scratching moment of the 2013 season. It’s hard to understand how a team that’s competing for a BCS bid looked as bad as it did against the lowly Boilermakers. MSU didn’t even score an offensive touchdown to make it a two-possession game until the fourth quarter. The Spartans’ body of work, though, proved it to be an aberration, albeit a confusing one.

Dillon: MSU 31, Purdue 10
Looking back, this game was incredibly odd. The MSU offense that took a tremendous step forward against Indiana the previous week and seemingly disappeared against the Boilermakers. And considering Purdue was one of the Big Ten’s weaker teams of 2013, it led many to question how good the Spartans actually could be. Heading into the fourth quarter ahead by only seven, it was never out of the question for Purdue to claw their way back in — it only takes one play. But senior linebacker Denicos Allen scored on a 45-yard touchdown return to ensure a win in an otherwise strange day at the office.

Result: MSU 42, Illinois 3

Stephen: MSU 34, Illinois 0
Once again, an explosive offense found success with an early scoring drive. And once again, that offense was stifled the rest of the way by the Spartans. It was another transformational game for Cook, who finished 15-for-16 passing, setting a school record for passing efficiency.

Dillon: MSU 35, Illinois 3
Few knew what to make of Connor Cook — or MSU’s offense in general — to this point of the year. But as Stephen points out, Cook finished the day 15-for-16 passing for 208 yards and three touchdowns, showing there indeed was a light at the end of the tunnel for the Spartans.

Result: MSU 29, Michigan 6

Stephen: MSU 24, Michigan 17
Before the season, the Wolverines appeared a lot tougher than they truly were by this point in the season. MSU took advantage of the youthful interior offensive line of U-M with a series of blitzes, sacking quarterback Devin Gardner seven times. The Spartans physically overwhelmed U-M to regain the Paul Bunyan Trophy and remain undefeated in conference play.

Dillon: Michigan 24, MSU 21
Hear me out. I was expecting so much more of the Wolverines this season. Blame the media, blame the hype, blame whatever. A year after clipping the Spartans in Ann Arbor and finally with a competent quarterback under center, it seemed like U-M was primed to beat MSU once more. I was wrong. MSU’s defense dominated quarterback Devin Gardner, bringing the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing and continuing the tailspin that was the Wolverines’ season.

Result: MSU 41, Nebraska 28

Stephen: Nebraska 34, MSU 24
Again, the preseason expectations didn’t match the product that Nebraska brought to the field. The Cornhuskers were a good team, but not a great one, especially without quarterback Taylor Martinez. I thought playing on the road swung the game in favor of Nebraska, but it proved to be another statement win for the Spartans.

Dillon: Nebraska 35, MSU 31
As was the case against Iowa, I didn’t anticipate MSU having the success on the road like it had this season. And considering the Spartans had never beaten Nebraska, it seemed unlikely it would happen this year. Without Taylor Martinez, the Huskers were much weaker than anyone could have known, opening the door for a five turnover day for MSU’s defense. Also, it was another strong day for Langford, who finished the day with 151 yards and two touchdowns.

Result: MSU 30, Northwestern 6

Stephen: MSU 27, Northwestern 24
The Wildcats were praised as a sleeper team entering the season in the top 25, but injuries and a string of close losses sent their season spiraling downward. MSU went to Evanston, Ill., and put on another defensive clinic to earn the Legends Division title. At this point in the season, an MSU victory was easy to predict.

Dillon: MSU 34, Northwestern 24
What the hell happened to Northwestern’s season? This team was supposed to run the table on its schedule and be a dark horse to play in the Big Ten Championship Game. Instead, the Wildcats finished the year with a single Big Ten victory, nearly mirroring the unlucky ineptitude of the Spartans from 2012. The win allowed MSU to clinch the Legends Division title with one week of the regular season left to play.

Result: MSU 14, Minnesota 3

Stephen: MSU 35, Minnesota 7
Similar to the Purdue game, the Spartans shuffled through a senior day bout with Minnesota that was much closer than expected. The Golden Gophers also were much, much better than expected as the Big Ten’s surprise story this season. I’ll give them a pass, though, considering the date with Ohio State for the conference title was already booked.

Dillon: MSU 42, Minnesota 14
The Big Ten is weird sometimes. Northwestern, who was predicted to be one of the conference’s best teams, turned out to be probably its worst. And Minnesota, who’s a perennial doormat for most Big Ten teams, finished as strong as the Golden Gophers have in years. This game was a little too close for comfort but the Spartans muddled through senior day before booking a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game.

ESPN starting MSU's week on good note

By Matt Sheehan          Last updated: 12/01/13 9:47pm         

After beating Minnesota 14-3 on Saturday, the ESPN ended the Spartans’ weekend on quite the note.

During ESPN’s “BCS Countdown,” it was revealed the Spartans earned the No. 10 spot in the latest BCS Polls, but that’s when the fun started for MSU. Later in the episode BCS analyst Brad Edwards set his BCS bowl projections and had MSU slated against Arizona State in the 100th Rose Bowl. However, he picked OSU to head to the BCS National Championship Game, predicting an MSU loss this Saturday.

But the crew closed their show with better news for the Spartans — ESPN’s “College GameDay” will be heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday. This is the third year “College GameDay” will be in attendance before an MSU game, and the second season in a row they will be preluding an OSU-MSU matchup.

Andrew Maxwell's brother displeased over lack of playing time Saturday

By Dillon Davis          Last updated: 12/01/13 5:03pm         

For much of the season, head coach Mark Dantonio has praised the way Andrew Maxwell has taken being unseated as MSU’s starting quarterback.

Maxwell was honored during senior day celebrations on Saturday, emerging from the Spartan Stadium locker room to one of the largest cheers of the day — no doubt a token of gratitude for the pressure and abuse Maxwell took from fans and members of the media.

However, one member of the Maxwell family wasn’t too happy about how senior day played out for the Midland, Mich. native.

On Saturday, Andrew’s brother Adam Maxwell, a media and information freshman at MSU, voiced his disapproval on Twitter that the senior quarterback didn’t get to play in the weekend’s win over Minnesota.

Note: The tweet has since been taken down off the account

State News football reporters predict MSU victory over Minnesota on Senior Day

By Dillon Davis, Stephen Brooks          Last updated: 11/30/13 11:43am         

Ninety two days ago, the MSU football team kicked off the 2013 season at Spartan Stadium.

Today, the regular season comes to a close.

With a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game on the horizon, the No. 11 Spartans (10-1 overall, 7-0) host Minnesota (8-3, 4-3) in the regular season finale at Spartan Stadium (noon, Big Ten Network).

The Spartans also will celebrate Senior Day featuring the final home game for linebacker Max Bullough, linebacker Denicos Allen, cornerback Darqueze Dennard, tackle Blake Treadwell, tackle Fou Fonoti, guard Dan France and quarterback Andrew Maxwell, among others.

And although it will not be Jeremy Langford’s final game at Spartan Stadium, the junior running back will have the opportunity to eclipse 100 yards for his seventh consecutive game against the Golden Gophers, who currently rank seventh in the Big Ten is total rushing defense.

With kickoff upcoming, football reporters Dillon Davis and Stephen Brooks predict the action in East Lansing:

Dillon Davis:
Prior to the season, I predicted the Spartans to finish 9-3 with losses to Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska.

Well, MSU swept all three of those teams — shows how much I know.

Nevertheless, it’s been a truly special season for the Spartans, who have been strong from start to finish on the defensive side of the ball while the offense gradually has been building toward a season ending crescendo. And they’ll have the chance to prove it against Ohio State next week in the Big Ten Championship Game.

But before that, the Spartans need to handle Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill and a surprisingly tough Golden Gophers team this afternoon.

Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook continues to grow under center, quickly becoming the unquestioned starter heading into the 2014 campaign — a luxury he was not afforded this season. As long as Langford keeps carrying the load of the running game while MSU’s wide receivers maintain the pace they’re on this year, the offense should do just fine.

Taking a look at the opponent, Minnesota is coming off a week where it was unable to score an offensive touchdown at home against Wisconsin. And while the Badgers are tough on defense, the road isn’t easier against MSU, who has been ranked nationally on defense all year long.

My prediction? I doubt the Golden Gophers have the firepower to top a consistently outstanding Spartan defensive attack.

MSU 35, Minnesota 14

Stephen Brooks:
The crowd won’t show up, but the Spartans will — eventually.

Between the emotions of senior day and a titanic championship matchup with Ohio State looming next weekend, I think MSU will get off to a slow start against Minnesota. Players and coaches have repeatedly stated how much they look forward to playing the Golden Gophers despite having the Legends Division title in hand, but you have to wonder how much of the Spartans’ attention has shifted to the Buckeyes.

Once the ball gets rolling though, MSU should cruise to a relatively stress-free victory. The prideful defense will play inspired football to send its seniors out on a high note.

If there’s a game within the game to keep an eye on, it’s Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman versus the MSU offensive line. The Spartans’ front line is playing as well as any under head coach Mark Dantonio, but Hageman is a disruptive force along the interior that’s effective both against the run and rushing the passer. He’s among the most talented defensive linemen MSU has faced this season, if not the best. Hageman should get his share of plays, but as long as he isn’t controlling the line of scrimmage MSU will be OK.

The highlight of the day comes on a late interception from senior safety Isaiah Lewis, returned to the red zone to set up an easy fade-route touchdown for senior wide receiver Bennie Fowler from quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who’s also a senior.

MSU 34 Minnesota 13

MSU allowing students' guests to game this Saturday

By Matt Sheehan          Last updated: 11/27/13 2:33pm         

Seeing friends and family over Thanksgiving break? Are you a student season ticket holder for MSU football? Well, you can now combine the two into one day at Spartan Stadium.

MSU is allowing student season ticket holders to bring a guest with them to Saturday’s game against Minnesota (noon, BTN). The emailed flyer states the guest does not have to be a student, and both should enter through the student section gates upon arrival.

Dennard's fame grows, Sadler kept off Ray Guy Award list

By Stephen Brooks          Last updated: 11/26/13 12:22am         

Darqueze Dennard’s stellar senior season continues to earn him recognition and publicity across the country.

The cornerback was named one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation’s best defensive back. Dennard joins fellow corners Lamarcus Joyner from Florida State and Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State as the three candidates for the trophy.

Dennard also was selected as one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy for the top defensive player in the country last week.

He is the first Spartan ever named as a finalist for the award, and the second chosen as a Thorpe finalist behind Todd Krumm in 1987.

The Nagurski Trophy winner will be announced on Dec. 9 while the Thorpe Award will be dished out with a bevy of other honors at The Home Depot College Football Awards show Dec. 12 on ESPN.

In Saturday’s Legends Division-clinching win against Northwestern, Dennard recorded a career-high nine tackles and his fourth interception of the season, also a career-best. His 47 tackles in 2013 rank him fifth on the team, and his seven pass breakups lead all Spartans.

Dennard, who was ranked as the nation’s No. 3 defensive player by CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman, has accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl all-star game after the season before he’ll likely be a high round selection in the NFL Draft. He has been a three-year starter at corner for a top-10 ranked MSU defense, and emerged as one of the most vital cogs of the current top-ranked unit.

On a Monday when multiple award finalists were named, junior punter Mike Sadler was not among them in contention for the Ray Guy Award. Sadler was chosen as one of 10 finalists on Nov. 8 and expected to be among the favorites to win the hardware. When the list was cut to three, only Purdue’s Cody Webster, Memphis’ Tom Hornsey and Texas A&M’s Drew Kaser remained.

No other MSU players are in contention for major individual awards this season.

A deeper look at 'Charlie Brown'

By Stephen Brooks          Last updated: 11/18/13 4:52pm         

If everything went according to plan, MSU’s fourth-quarter fake field goal — code name: Charlie Brown — would not have happened.

“I was excited to run it because every time we ran it in practice I ended up scoring a touchdown,” junior punter Mike Sadler said.

“But the look that they gave us was different, and I was actually supposed to check out of that and we were supposed to kick a field goal.”

Sadler didn’t notice the different alignment at the time, and went ahead with the fake instead of a 45-yard field goal attempt from freshman kicker Michael Geiger.

The situation required additional ad-libbing after the snap. Sadler said Charlie Brown is designed to be an outside run to the right (MSU also has “Lucy” in its playbook, the same play going to the left) but the hole was clogged so he turned it inside to grind out three yards and a first down.

An attempt at deception turned into a power run for the 192-pound punter with Geiger assuming the role of lead-blocker through the teeth of the defense.

So did Geiger throw a good block up the middle?

“I have no idea. I’m just gonna go ahead and assume no,” Sadler said. “I’ll have to watch film. I just remember being picked up … I’m just glad that I lived to see another day.”

Head coach Mark Dantonio has established a reputation for special teams trickery, and Sadler’s run Saturday setup a Connor Cook touchdown pass that put the Spartans in control the rest of the way.

Sadler has become something of a secret weapon for MSU, rushing for 25 and 26 yards on fake punts at Iowa this season (that one was coined “Hey Diddle Diddle Send Sadler Up the Middle) and at Michigan in 2012.

“At some point in time your head football coach has got to take chances,” Dantonio said. “That’s the basic thing. I told our football team at halftime, hey, we’re gonna roll the dice, and that’s what we were gonna do. I’d already made up my mind on that series if we got within field goal range than we were running the fake — Charlie Brown.”

Cook said he was confident in the call considering the team’s success rate when running it in practice, and noted Sadler has “one of the strongest bench presses” on the team.

“He’s a really, really strong guy. Doesn’t really look like it, but he’s a lot stronger than you think,” Cook said. “… Anytime the ball’s in his hands I feel comfortable, I feel like he’s gonna protect it and if he has to lower his shoulder, he’s gonna.”

“What was it? Fourth-and-1 or fourth-and-2? I figured we could at least get that with Sadler running the ball up the middle,” senior linebacker Max Bullough added.

Former MSU recruit, current rapper signs with WMU

By Stephen Brooks          Last updated: 11/14/13 8:41pm         

Jay DatBull is now a Bronco.

Jay Harris, a former MSU recruit in the class of 2013, has committed to play football at Western Michigan. He never played in East Lansing in the wake of releasing a music video in which he was seen smoking marijuana under the name Jay DatBull, called “DatBull 4 Life.”

Harris, a three-star wide receiver prospect, tweeted the news Wednesday night:

MLive reported Harris returned to football via junior college and a prep school. Rivals.com now lists him as part of the 2014 class.

Sadler semifinalist for Ray Guy Award

By Stephen Brooks          Last updated: 11/11/13 9:38pm         

Much has been said and written about the outstanding MSU defense this season, which remains the No. 1-ranked unit in the nation.

But one of its biggest assets, junior punter Mike Sadler, quietly has put together an exceptional season and was honored as a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the top punter in the country each year.

He leads the nation in punts downed inside the 10-yard line with 15, and is tied for second place with 22 kicks pinned inside the 20-yard line. Even more impressive, six of his 47 punts have been downed inside the 5, including a pair on the 1-yard line.

The Grand Rapids, Mich., native averages 42.8 yards on his punts, ranking him second in the Big Ten and No. 25 nationally. In 2012, Sadler was a first-team All-Big Ten selection with an average of 43.3 yards.

“Mike Sadler has helped make us a great defense with his precision placement of punts this fall,” defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said in a release from the athletics department. “… That gives our offense a short field to work with.”

In MSU’s 42-28 win against Indiana, Sadler notched a career-high average of 59.2 yards on four punts, highlighted by a season-best 69-yard boot.

Freshman Cameron Johnson from Ohio State and Purdue senior Cody Webster round out the Big Ten semifinalists.

EMU's English fired for 'inappropriate language'

By Dillon Davis          Last updated: 11/10/13 6:09pm         

After a 1-8 start to the season, Eastern Michigan fired head football coach Ron English last week, ending a five-season run for the former Michigan defensive coordinator.

However, the Detroit News reported a story Saturday that leaked audio of an epic tirade by English directed at his players played a role in his dismissal.

During the meltdown, English tells his team they’re playing “shitbird football,” later referring to the team as a group of “quitting ass bitches.” English also tells his team he does not respect them and calls them “f****t ass motherf***ers.”

Eastern Michigan Director of Athletics Heather Lyke released a statement about the audio, making it clear that type of behavior is not welcome in the program.

“I received a tape of a situation in which Coach English had addressed the team and used wholly inappropriate language,” Lyke said in a statement. “We hold our coaches and staff to high standards of professionalism and conduct and there is no place, particularly in a student environment, where this language is appropriate. The statements made by Coach English are absolutely unacceptable.

“My decision to make a change in leadership of our football program was the culmination of a lot of factors including the comprehensive review of our program, the competitive performance and this tape. Our primary interest is in the well being and success of our student-athletes and this will continue to be our priority in every decision we make and every action we take.

“My focus moving forward is on the quality of our student-athletes’ experience as well as the search process for the next leader of our football program.”

English later apologized for the language in an interview with the Associated Press.

“As a man who has coached 21 years, obviously, on this occasion and particular meeting, I lost my poise, got upset and used language that was inappropriate, particularly as it pertains to homosexual slurs. I regret that,” English told the AP in a telephone interview on Saturday. “I apologize to the university for putting it in this position and tarnishing its reputation. I look forward to continuing a career that has been marked by molding men of integrity, passion, and intensity for 21 years.”

The team already experienced a large blow this season with the death of EMU receiver Demarius Reed.

Reed was found dead outside his off-campus apartment on Oct. 18 from multiple gunshot wounds. His death came one day before the team was scheduled to play the Ohio Bobcats.